The eThekwini region, the ANC's biggest with 103 branches, appears particularly divided and a possibility exists of a number of branches turning against party leader President Jacob Zuma. This is in stark contrast to the ANC's 2007 Polokwane conference, when KwaZulu-Natal as a whole backed Zuma.
KwaZulu-Natal will take 974 voting delegates from its branches, the biggest provincial delegation, to Mangaung. The province was unable to say how many delegates eThekwini would be sending, but it will be a minimum of 103 – one from each branch.
But, as the region with the largest number of members and branches, followed by the Musa Dladla region in northern KwaZulu-Natal (99 branches) and the Abaqulusi region (89 branches), it will also have a large number of the 150 extra branch members who will be allocated according to province for the large branches.
But tension at local level is threatening the homogeneity of the province. Apparently it arises largely over unhappiness with Zuma and provincial leaders such as Premier Zweli Mkhize, as well as access to positions such as councillors and government jobs and contracts.
According to one high-ranking ANC member, eThekwini is divided along three factional lines: those supporting regional chairperson Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who is considered provincial ANC chairperson Mkhize's point man; those who have gathered around the powerful regional treasurer, Zandile Gumede, and secretary Bheki Ntshangase; and those backing former youth league chairperson Nhlakanipho Ntombela.
The source said that the fractures stemmed from the region's elective conference earlier this year when some branches backing Ntombela were deemed not to be in good standing and disqualified from sending delegates. It is claimed that this was done to ensure a Dhlomo victory.
"Those members are still unhappy about what happened and it's playing out now. There is a feeling that these branches will go against the province and not vote for Zuma."
Four other ANC members from the province who are familiar with the situation in eThekwini independently confirmed this analysis.
One said the decision could have less to do with lobbying and much more to do with ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe's call for members to exercise their independence when nominating and voting for the party's top six national leaders.
"Some people are getting tired of being treated as voting fodder, others feel that they have been left behind by Zuma, so this is all coming into play now."
If disaffected eThekwini branches and delegates vote along these lines, it could have serious consequences for Zuma's voter tally at Mangaung. Following the disqualification of the 30 branches, Ntombela lost by 25 votes – 242 votes to Dhlomo's 277. Factoring in these branches, which would now be deemed in good standing, there are suggestions that the disaffected branch votes would be in the majority in the region.
The M&G also understands that the disaffection is linked to subterranean lobbying in KwaZulu-Natal because of the fear of victimisation if anyone is construed to be anti-Zuma.
"The strategy is not to nominate Kgalema as a branch, but to ensure that the delegates who go to Mangaung will vote with their conscience," a lobbyist said.
The M&G was told some branches had nominated Motlanthe, but the ANC was unable to confirm this. Spokesperson Senzo Mkhize said the full details would be released at the province's nominations conference at the end of the month.
Ntshangase did not respond to the M&G's enquiries.